While the latest technology brings us countless conveniences, it also exposes us to a decidedly inconvenient reality: increased identity theft.
As we described in our last post, “Tis the Season for Tax Scams,” the problem is so pervasive that the Internal Revenue Service has listed it as its top concern.
Social Security numbers, bank accounts, birthdates, passwords, your contact information, your Facebook photo, the names of your family members, your vacation plans … These days, there’s not much personal information that a criminal can’t use against you. On the flip side, there are so many ways to combat identity theft, it can be hard to know where to begin.
Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, there’s a practical adage that can serve as your guide: An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure! In a two-part series, we offer Five Pillars of Protection to help you prevent identity theft from happening to you.
Pillar #1: Protect Your Paperwork
Even in today’s world of electronic everything, old-fashioned thievery is still among the most common threats we face. Where we used to only have to worry about losing valuables such as cash and jewelry, criminals are now also stealing our identity. That’s why it’s as important as ever to use lock and key — and a high-quality shredder — to safeguard your tangible goods:
A few practical to-dos:
- Secure your home, car, mailbox, trash and recycle bins, and anywhere else your identity might be physically found.
- Promptly destroy personalized
paperwork once it is no longer needed. When doing so, use a micro shredder (versus a less-thorough strip shredder), even with personalized envelopes and similar, seemingly benign paperwork.
- Keep a close eye on your wallet or purse and mobile devices, especially in public venues.
- Apply all of the above at home, work, and out in public.
Pillar #2: Secure Your Electronic Access
Whether it’s through phishing, malware or other invasive techniques, there are countless clever ways thieves are worming their way into our online records, transactions and activities. Yes, it’s annoying and inconvenient to secure your electronic devices and online presence, but it’s certainly much less annoying than having your security compromised.
A few practical to-dos:
- Create unique, strong passwords everywhere you can, and change them regularly. Consider using password management software to help balance security and accessibility.
- Install anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computers — and keep it current.
- Close online accounts if you are no longer using them.
- Secure your private network and be careful on public networks. If someone were watching you while you worked, would it put you at risk? If so, don’t do it on a public network.
- Beware of inserting flash drives or other external devices into your computer’s USB ports, especially when the source is suspect; they can infect your computer with malware.
- Use professional services to wipe your devices clean before you sell, donate or dispose of them. Computers, mobile devices, printers, fax machines and photocopiers can harbor sensitive information, even if you think you have deleted everything.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) OnGuardOnline.gov for additional ideas.
By protecting your paperwork and electronic access, you are well on your way to better securing two primary access points that identity thieves often use to gain entry to your personal information. In our next post, we’ll offer three more pillars of protection to help you keep your identity to yourself.